Aapravasi Ghat: An undying Indian symbol in Mauritius

Land of Indentured labour and home of a modern Diaspora

Diaspora

March 25, 2017

/ By / New Delhi



 

site_1227_0001-750-0-20151105122841A small complex of buildings located at a seafront in Port Louis, Aapravasi Ghat served as the main immigration depot for the indentured labourers from India. An important landmark for Mauritius’ social history, it is also home to a modern Indian Diaspora.

A UNESCO world heritage site, the Aapravasi Ghat in the Mauritian capital, Port Louis, is the roof of an important episode from Indian history. It was here that almost half a million indentured labourers were moved to work on sugarcane plantations and be part of the ‘great experiment’.

The ‘experiment’ which was an initiation of the British government, aimed to demonstrate the superiority of ‘free’ over ‘slave’ labour in its plantation colonies after it abolished slavery from its Empire in 1834.

Located on the bay of Trou Fanfaron, the Aapravasi Ghat is the remains of an immigration depot and the site from where modern indentured labour Diaspora emerged. The buildings at the site, continue to remain reminiscent of what now is one of the earliest examples of the roots of a global economic system and one of the greatest migrations in history.

Built in 1849, this site in Mauritius witnessed the success of the great experiment as it was from here it went onto be adopted by other colonial powers around the world. Around two million indentured labourers were migrated across the world with almost half a million to Mauritius itself.

The buildings of Aapravasi Ghat remain a testimony and the sole surviving example of this unique modern Diaspora, the roots of which tell the story of some modern working systems, like that of contractual labour. Culturally, it speaks of the traditions that Indian men and women brought with them to this foreign land and embedded them here.

It is interesting to witness that how despite alterations and constructions,  a part of the original immigration depot continues to survive in the shape it was in 1865. These original structures include the sheds for the housing of the immigrants, kitchens, lavatories, a building used as a hospital block and highly symbolical flight of 14 steps upon which all immigrants had to lay foot before entering the immigration depot.

A representation of the site where the indentured labour first arrived and from where it moved to other parts of the world, Aapravasi Ghat is a representation of not just the Diaspora that resides in Mauritius, but also of their history and of other Diasporas around the world who emerged from a class of indentured labourers.

Much of its original structure can now only be seen in archival and architectural drawings from the time of its alteration in 1864-1865. With all its original wings for show, the drawings  give evidence of its purpose as an immigration depot which is shaped slightly differently now, but, nevertheless stands as an epitome of an important historic event.

Protecting history

The property has seen many conservation projects over a period of time, with ICOMOS India being part of it. The restoration and conservation in 2003 and 2004, for instance, saw the international forums participation by means of preparation of two technical reports. A photo and an architectural documentation were undertaken before initiating the conservation works and during the conservation process.

Owned by the ministry of arts and culture, the property is protected as a national heritage with the  Municipal Council of Port-Louis, Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund, a technical team and some international experts being the benefactors.

in 2015, Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, visited the site to pay tribute to the indentured labour who had gone to the foreign land to give themselves a new life but rather landed shaping the future of Mauritius among many other distant lands.

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